Chris Robshaw is likely to be England’s openside flanker in the autumn internationals despite coach Eddie Jones’ prior claims that the former captain is definitely a No. 6.
With James Haskell nursing the toe injury he sustained in the second test against Australia, and Jack Clifford also ruled out for surgery on his ankle, there is a gaping hole in the England back row.
And given the way Jones likes to ease young players into the international scene (witness his patient approach with Maro Itoje during the Six Nations), it is very unlikely that either Leicester Tigers’ Will Evans or Guy Thompson of Wasps will start against South Africa. Neither has Teimana Harrison, who managed only 31 minutes as Haskell’s replacement in the third Australian test, found enough form this season to warrant inclusion in the XV.
Teimana Harrison starts on the bench for Northampton and with James Haskell and now Jack Clifford out he needs a good run
— chris jones (@chrisjonespress) September 23, 2016
But due to England’s strength at lock, and the superb all-round game of Itoje, Jones will surely select Joe Launchbury or Courtney Lawes as George Kruis’ second-row partner, and move Itoje to the blindside flank.
Jones may be tempted to play Itoje at 7, but given that when he has played in the back row for Saracens and England it has been on the blindside, Jones is likely to keep things as straightforward as possible for him.
Itoje and Robshaw would share ball-winning duties, but Itoje would probably feel more comfortable defending scrums on the blindside. Against South Africa, that could be an important consideration.
Maro Itoje – 6ft 5in, 18 1/2 st. Played at Flanker today, but what's his best position long term?
— InfernoProTV (@InfernoProTV) February 14, 2016
Another, less likely, option that would also see Robshaw wear the No. 7 jersey is if Jones went for all-out power in the back row and selected Nathan Hughes on the blindside. In such a case, Robshaw would surely be the openside wearing 7.
Robshaw, it seems, is about to be rehabilitated to the position he last held with England during the ill-fated 2015 World Cup campaign. It may be a stop-gap, but it’s quite a turnaround.
Daniel Rey, Pundit Arena